Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
My boldest statement necklace is collecting dust on my bedroom dresser. It’s a trademark J.Crew piece: a mix of teardrop-shaped pale blue and ivory epoxy with cubic zirconia accents. On the rare occasions I wear it, the necklace hangs heavy around my neck and demands to be noticed.
This necklace — which, admittedly, I bought at J.Crew Mercantile because I couldn’t rationalize dropping $100 on a necklace made of mostly plastic at the real store — is the matriarch in my collection of dormant costume jewelry. A few years ago, these statement necklaces became a professional crutch for me. When I made the career switch from journalism to public relations, I felt like the schlubby little sister who walked in on a slumber party of much cooler, older, prettier high school girls. The statement necklace, I decided, would be my ticket to fitting in.
PR is a field known to be inhabited mostly by women — a “pink ghetto,” as it were — with many from both inside and out of the field firmly believing that women are naturally suited to take on the “fluffy” work of PR; sending spammy emails to editors and planning parties for brands. It’s a stereotype that diminishes not just the skill involved in PR, but also the critical role of publicity to propel any successful brand, product, or individual. But it’s a stereotype that persists, and as such, PR women are usually represented in pop culture as a caricature closely related to Elle Woods.
Take the Kroll Show’s “PubLIZity” sketch as an example. The sketch features Nick Kroll in drag alongside Jenny Slate as two vocal-fried ditzes and owners of a publicity firm in a parody of an E!-style reality show. Although the duo’s list of made-up clients (a yogurt water brand, a plastic surgeon for dogs, a guy working for the Illuminati) is pure hyperbole, the costume design is not too far from reality: a cacophony of neons, pastels, blazers, cut-outs, and chintzy statement necklaces. When I left my job at a local newspaper in Iowa for a PR job in a bigger city, I learned that those “PubLIZity” ensembles were closer to real life than satire.
After the job change, I became hyper-aware of my dress pants that were too uptight and my Target basics that were too plain. I walked into networking luncheons at downtown hotels wearing gray polyester trousers that were somehow both too wide and too short. At every table in every hotel ballroom, the women were dressed in slightly different iterations of the same PR woman uniform: solid shift dress (black or bold jewel tone), heels (exceptionally cute flats on a casual day), and one to three pieces of on-trend, oversized costume jewelry. A statement necklace was usually the centerpiece of the outfit, and it was always that specific style of necklace — the kind that looks like a mosaic made with the remnants of a smashed disco ball and a ’90s Polly Pocket case.
Those statement necklaces, I soon discovered, were especially ubiquitous in the agency world. It seemed every woman owned some variation of that chunky J.Crew disco ball/Polly Pocket remnant necklace. Wanting to look the part at my first agency job when I was not yet confident in my abilities as a spin doctor (nor entirely sure where to buy pants that fit properly), I went out and bought a mammoth necklace of my own. My foray into jumbo neck adornments was a J.Crew imitation from Charming Charlie's: a pale pink number that I bought with a matching pair of pendant earrings. It’s the most subtle piece in my collection, which is to say, it’s as subtle as a quarter-pound necklace can possibly be.
My collection of necklaces dutifully served its purpose in the early days of my PR career, when I was most earnest in my effort to blend in. Had I not been so (needlessly, in retrospect) insecure about my college years spent with the student newspaper instead of the campus PRSSA chapter, I would have perhaps never gravitated toward such brutally gaudy accessories. But buying up a new collection of cheap jewelry that wasn’t in line with my own style seemed like a low-stakes way to try to fit in.
My own style preferences aside, the chunky statement necklace is not without its merits. A friend in the industry pointed out that a statement necklace is the easiest way to dress up an outfit. If you wake up in the morning and just can’t bring yourself to GAF about managing a PR crisis for your client in the B2B ice machine industry but still need to look vaguely professional, just reach for pair of skinny jeans, a button-down (assuming you’ve mastered the half-tuck), and pointed-toe flats. Top it off with your loudest, shiniest, most garish collar decoration. The statement necklace is foolproof (if not tacky) shorthand for “Hello, world! I made an effort today.”
The statement necklace will always be at the shimmery heart of my mental image of the quintessential PR professional, even if I know better than to place all practitioners in the pro-statement-necklace camp. As I’ve gotten older and spent several years working in the field, I’ve stopped trying to dress the part; after all, most women I now work with have a professional style of their own, with nary a plastic teardrop or glossy fake gemstone in sight. The statement necklace just happened to be the first easily identifiable trend I picked up among women in the field, thus its unending association with the unofficial PR uniform I once strived to adhere to.
I used to depend on statement necklaces to communicate to my colleagues that I knew what was up, that I belonged in their club. Somehow, I believed an accessory could double as an indicator of my competence and belonging. And yet the statement necklace’s true statement is now clear to me: “I may be a professional, but I’m a trendy professional. Check the plastic bits exploding around my neck.”